Is Scleroderma a Disability? SSA Criteria for Systemic Sclerosis
December 1, 2023 · 3 min read
If you have scleroderma, you may qualify for disability benefits if you can prove you are unable to work due to your condition. We'll walk you through the Social Security Administration (SSA) qualification requirements to help you better understand whether you can qualify for disability benefits for your scleroderma.
What is scleroderma?
Scleroderma is a rare autoimmune disease in which the immune system overproduces collagen. Scleroderma causes inflammation and the thickening and hardening of the skin and other connective tissues. This chronic disease can also impact internal organs and blood vessels.
2 types of scleroderma
There are two main types of scleroderma:
Localized: This type of scleroderma, also called morphea, affects localized areas of the skin, like the chest and abdomen. These limited symptoms, referred to as CREST syndrome, tend to develop slowly and usually do not spread to other parts of the body.
Systemic sclerosis: This form of scleroderma can affect large areas of skin as well as internal organs, such as the lungs or heart. Systemic sclerosis can lead to serious damage to both the blood vessels and internal organs.
People with scleroderma can experience a wide range of symptoms in various body systems. Some common symptoms include:
Fingers or toes turning blue or white when exposed to cold temperatures
Hardening and tightening of the skin
Joint and muscle pain
Lightening or darkening of the skin, as well as a shiny appearance
Shortness of breath
Ready to get benefits today?
Is scleroderma a disability?
Yes, scleroderma is a disability, according to the Social Security Administration (SSA). Scleroderma is listed in the SSA Blue Book, a resource of medical conditions that qualify for disability benefits, under Immune System Disorders in Section 14.01.
In cases of substantial limitations, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also considers scleroderma a disability. The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in areas of public life.
Can I get disability if I have scleroderma?
If you have scleroderma, you may qualify for Social Security benefits. Your scleroderma symptoms need to be severe enough that they prevent you from working. Symptoms of scleroderma can vary widely, but symptoms like chronic joint pain and extreme fatigue can affect your ability to sustain a full-time job.
In addition to meeting the medical criteria, you also must meet the SSA’s technical eligibility criteria. So even though scleroderma has a listing in the SSA Blue Book, it can be challenging to get disability benefits.
Criteria for getting disability with scleroderma
To qualify for disability benefits, you must provide medical records showing that your symptoms are severe enough to prevent you from working, despite treatment efforts. To receive disability benefits for scleroderma, you must meet oneof the SSA’s following standards:
Have two or more organs or body systems affected by scleroderma, with a moderate level of severity in at least one impacted area, and at least two symptoms or signs of the condition (such as severe fatigue or involuntary weight loss)
Have one of the following symptoms and impacts:Toe contractures or fixed deformity on one or both feet, as well as medical documentation supporting a need for an assistive mobility device or an inability to use one upper extremity that requires the use of an assistive deviceFinger contractures or fixed deformity in both hands, as well as medical documentation showing an inability to use both upper extremities to the degree that it prevents work-related activitiesAtrophy with irreversible damage in one or both lower extremities, as well as a documented medical need for a mobility device or an inability to use one upper extremity that requires the use of an assistive deviceAtrophy with irreversible damage in both upper extremities, as well as medical documentation showing an inability to use both upper extremities to the degree that it prevents work-related activities
Have Raynaud's Phenomenon, characterized either by gangrene in at least two extremities or ischemia with ulcerations of toes or fingers, the latter of which also requires medical documentation showing a need for an assistive mobility device or an inability to use one or both upper extremities
Have repeated manifestations of scleroderma, with at least two symptoms or signs of the condition and at least one of the following limitations:Limitation in daily activitiesLimitations in keeping up sociallyLimitation in completing tasks in a reasonable amount of time
Other health conditions associated with scleroderma
Often, qualifying for disability benefits is easier if you apply with more than one condition. People with scleroderma often have other autoimmune conditions, such as:
Before applying for disability benefits, it's helpful to gauge the chances your scleroderma will qualify. If you're able to answer “yes” to most of the following questions, there is a good chance you'll qualify for benefits:
Are you unable to complete tasks in a timely fashion due to your scleroderma?
Does your condition severely limit your mobility?
Does your scleroderma interfere with daily tasks?
Is more than one organ or body system impacted by your scleroderma, at least moderately?
How to apply for benefits
If your scleroderma meets the criteria, you'll want to begin the process of applying for disability benefits. Given the length of the application process, it's wise to get started as soon as possible.
If you're less certain your scleroderma will qualify for disability benefits, the following questions can hopefully provide some clarity on the appropriate next steps to take:
Apply now if:
You have a diagnosis and receive treatment for your scleroderma
Despite receiving treatment, your symptoms have persisted and make it impossible to work
If your scleroderma doesn't quite meet the SSA’s requirements, you can still apply. Just keep in mind that you will need to provide medical records demonstrating that your scleroderma makes you unable to perform your specific work responsibilities.
Even those with severe scleroderma may undergo an arduous application process. It's likely your application will get denied the first time, as about 80% of first-time applicants are turned down. You can appeal the initial denial though, and the chances of winning an appeal are much higher.
If you've worked and paid taxes for at least five of the last 10 years, then SSDI may be the better fit. On the other hand, if you haven't worked much or at all, and you have a low income and few assets, you may qualify for SSI.
The average disability check for scleroderma is $1,361.97 per month. As of 2024, it is possible to receive up to $3,822 per month for SSDI, and a$943 per month for SSI.
These maximum amounts apply across conditions and will not vary depending on how many conditions you ultimately use to qualify for benefits. The exact amount you receive will depend on your work history, sources of income, and assets. To get a better idea of your potential benefit amount for scleroderma, here's a look at SSDI and SSI payments.
Get help with your disability application
Take our 2-minute disability benefits quiz to learn if you will qualify, and then a member of our team will reach out for more information about your condition and situation. If you want, we can match you with a qualified disability lawyer with no upfront costs. You won't owe any money until after you win benefits.
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